In 1696 Gregory King published a study on the economic state of the English people as it existed in 1688. Briefly, his table includes the social and economic divisions of the day, the number of persons and households in a given class, and their average income. Economic historians tend to take it with several very1 large grains of salt2, but nonetheless, I took it and made a subsequent table for use in generating backgrounds.
Without further ado, your would-be adventurer hails from a long line of failed…:
|1||Vagrants, Thieves, or Romani|
|2-24||Paupers or Cottagers|
|25-47||Labourers or Outservants|
|82-84||Shopkeepers or Tradesmen|
|85-88||Common Sailors and Soldiers|
|98-100||Roll 1d100 until you get a 1, or a 78-97|
How the sausage was made
I took the population estimates and divided them by the population total, and multiplied those numbers by 100 to get a percentage. I then rounded all the percentages that were lower than 1% up to 1%, and rounded all the others down to the nearest integer, except for those that were within a tenth of the next highest integer. The result is that there was three percent leftover, hence the entry for 98-100.
History sometimes makes for slightly boring tables. In this case, there’s roughly a 1 in 4 chance that your character or their family were habitually starving, and roughly a 2 in 4 chance that they were agricultural laborers or farmers (and in bad years just as hungry as the indigent). Notwithstanding all that, for a rags-to-riches “your character starts out as a nobody” campaign, I think it’s pretty fitting.
There’s various things you can do to improve or modify this table: turn it into a 1d1000 table and come up with specializations for each of the broader groups; integrate the (very inaccurate) incomes listed in King’s table into an accessory table for generating loot; read the secondary and tertiary literature on Gregory King’s work and come up with something better.
Let me know what you think here.
Arkell, T. (2006). Illuminations and Distortions: Gregory King’s Scheme Calculated for the Year 1688 and the Social Structure of Later Stuart England. The Economic History Review, 59(1), new series, 32-69. Retrieved April 22, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3806002
Holmes, G. (1977). Gregory King and the Social Structure of pre-industrial England. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 27, 41-68. doi:10.2307/3679187
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